When Reba McEntire was a girl, growing up on an 8,000-acre ranch in Chockie, Okla., she couldn't wait to get to school. "It was the camaraderie," explains the onetime tomboy, who spent her early years playing alone in the barn. "We didn't have neighbor kids, so school was where I got my buddies."
That long-ago memory is what stokes her excitement about Malibu Country, the singer and actress's new ABC sitcom, about a divorced mom from Nashville who moves to L.A. to reboot her country music career. Singing doesn't offer the camaraderie she gets from acting. "It's something that's wanted to come out ever since I was little, at playtime with another person," the spunky redhead recalls, her accent as thick as buttermilk. "That's what I absolutely love to do."
And it shows. Veteran comedian Lily Tomlin costars as McEntire's wisecracking mother. She admires the crooner's non-Hollywood approach to stardom: "Reba totally makes it fun. There's no ego. She comes in like she's a teenager, laughing, going, 'How are yew?' Or, 'He's a mo-ron.' That accent is to die for. And that little impish grin of hers cracks me up. She's just normal, but you'd hardly call her average."
Over four decades, McEntire, 57, has racked up 35 No. 1 songs; wowed critics with her Broadway performance in Annie Get Your Gun; and, along with her husband, Narvel Blackstock, 56, who manages her, developed her own eponymous line of clothing, luggage and household goods. In fact, she says, settling into the sofa in the conference room of her Starstruck Entertainment building in Nashville, "everything I'm wearing today" — from her flag-inspired blouse to her jeans and boots — "is Reba."
But Reba Nell McEntire has always committed herself to balancing "Reba," the hard-driving icon, with her family interests. Her father, Clark, was a world-champion steer roper, and Reba's earliest goal was to be a rodeo barrel racer. But Mama Jackie, who once wanted to be a professional singer, encouraged her children to live out that dream. When Reba and two of her siblings were teens, she helped them form a trio called the Singing McEntires. After cowboy singer Red Steagall heard Reba sing the "Star-Spangled Banner" at the National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City in 1974, he agreed, at Jackie's request, to try to get Reba a record deal.
Ten years later, when McEntire was named Female Vocalist of the Year at the Country Music Association Awards, she held up her trophy. "This is for me and Mama," she said.
In the beginning, she admits, she was woefully green. "All I knew is, you recorded a song and got on the radio, and you was a star," she says. "I thought, 'OK, I'm ready.' I wanted to be Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, up there with that stature." Today McEntire holds the record as the female artist with the most CMA Award nominations (49), beating Parton (with 43). "It's not that I'm a better singer," she says. "Dolly is still my idol. I still have not passed her in my eyes."
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